A knock on the door woke me up late in the morning. Opening my eyes to the sunlight, I recalled that I wasn't back at my flat. The knock came again and I called a sleepy, "Come in."
Glancing at the time, I wondered why Mason hadn't gone to work. Was he sick? I quickly sat up in bed, rubbing my eyes together.
A medium sized woman with dark hair and gray streaks bustled in, a tray in her hands. "Good morning, Mrs. Campbell. I'm Billie, and I'm Mason's housekeeper. I made you breakfast."
I pushed my hair out of my face and Billie placed the tray on my lap. "You didn't have to bring it all the way up here, Billie, but thank you. And please, call me Lauren. I'm not really used to being called Mrs. Campbell." It was a name that was not going to stick, and it was best I didn't get used to it.
With her cheery smile, her warm and kindness were unmistakable. "Of course, Lauren."
When Billie left, I quickly finished up the last sandwich before I went to shower. When I got dressed, I walked downstairs and head to the kitchen, where I could hear her moving around.
She stopped washing the plates and turned to smile back at me. "Hi, Lauren. Do you need something?"
I walked further into the kitchen and sat down on a stool. "No. I hope you don't mind me being here."
"Of course not, dear." Then, she turned back to the sink and continued working.
I sat with a pleasing silence, watching her work and I grew curious. "If you don't mind me asking, how long have you been working for Mason?"
"Well, I've known him since he was a little boy," she answered with a mixture of affection and exasperation as she turned to look at me. "Ten years old to be exact. I worked for his family before Mason moved here and decided he wanted me. He gave me a home and I've been working here ever since."
I had difficulty keeping the surprised look on my face. "Wow, that's nice of him."
"He is a wonderful man. You're lucky to have him, dear."
"I'm not sure wonderful and Mason goes in the same sentence," I replied with a short, amused laugh. And I'm definitely not lucky to have such as uptight husband. But from the unexpected mirthful reaction that I got from Billie, it seemed she didn't quite agree with what I said.
"Mason can be quite a handful sometimes." Billie chuckled when she glanced over her shoulder at me. Shaking her head, she made a sweeping gesture with her hand and continued, "But isn't everyone? You must forgive him sometimes. He wasn't always like this, you know?"
I found myself intensely curious, almost in spite of myself. "Please, tell me more." I kept my chin under my palm and stared at her with an eager face. I couldn't deny that I don't jump in excitement every time I learned something new about Mason. I was more interested in him than what went on in my life, and it was unhealthy for me. Too bad, I didn't always listen to early warnings of a doctor, or myself.
And Billie was more eager to feed me. "When I came to work for his family, he was a bright child. He was always laughing, a boy who wanted to please everyone. And he was really smart too, for someone of his age."
My hands almost slipped off from the island. She meant every word of it, I realized and the knowledge filled me with almost uncontrollable shock. Mason bright? Wanted to please everyone? Crazy stories. The more I learned about him, the more I wondered if the Mason Campbell they knew was abducted by aliens and replaced with a new one because I couldn't imagine him as that boy she was describing.
I prodded, "And his family?" I sensed instinctively that there was more about his family I didn't know. "I heard his brother was in an accident and lost his mental balance." It was a sore topic I had never made the mistake of touching with Mason, sensing that nothing good would come out of me asking.
"Oh, yes. Such a terrible thing to happen to Tom." Billie shook her head with a sunken look. "He was the kindest man, so full of love for everyone and he was also a giver." There was a loving tone in her voice and a sad smile on her face. "Mason had looked up to Tom a lot. When Mason had gotten his heart broken, his brother was the one who had picked up the pieces. When that girl and his cousin broke his heart, it did a number on him, you know?"
"Yes, I know." I held my breath, hoping she would go on. Though I knew there were more stories behind his anger and hatred than simply a broken heart, perhaps I might gain another insight into this brooding man that was my husband. "So, the accident must have hurt him a lot."
Billie spared a glance at me, holding me immobilized. "Hurt him? Oh, dear, it did more damage to him than anyone could imagine," she admitted in a ragged whisper, pursing her lips. "Mason blames himself for his brother's accident. They had a fight that night before Tom drove away in anger and ran his car over the bridge. He's lucky to be alive today." A faint shadow flitted across her face.
"Barely," I muttered to myself, my heart breaking for Mason. He never told me this. He vaguely told me his brother had an accident and nothing else.
"He's been carrying that guilt and pain for years." She kept the last plate back and grinned at me. "When he told me he was getting married, I was so happy. Finally, something good is happening to that man. He had enough pain in his life. I know you would make him happy, unlike his family."
Billie wiped her hands on her apron and huffed, her anger visible on her face. "I don't think I told you that I was the one who took care of him when he was a boy. Tom was the only friend he had. His mother didn't care, always busy with her life, his sisters were in boarding school and his father had put too much pressure on him at such a young age. No wonder that boy had changed."
Our conversation was cut short when the doorbell rang. "I will get it." I slipped off the stool and walked out of the kitchen to open the door. The minute I did, something furry dashed inside, almost knocking me down.
Someone chuckled. "Sorry about that. He looks happy to be home."
I glanced at the voice that had spoken, not fighting the smile that appeared on my face. "Hi, Gale." He waved casually at me. "Come on in." I stepped back and let him inside the house. He followed behind me. "I wondered where Prince was." Mason's obnoxious dog was finally back home. Just great.
"Yeah, I babysat him for Mason for a few days."
"Can I get you anything?"
He smiled and we both sat down as he shook his head. "No, thank you. How are you, Lauren? You look good, by the way." He took his time roaming his eyes over me from head to toe.
I blushed and played with my fingers. "I'm good." When he didn't say anything, I raised my head. I stared, discovering that he had broken into a wide smile.
"How's living with Mason?"
I frowned at the question. "Um.."
"You don't need to hide it from me, Lauren."
"What do you mean?" It was curiosity more than anything else that prompted the question. I wanted to know what he thought he knew, and judging from the way he was looking at me, it ought to be something big.
"I know you two have your differences, and I also know your marriage is nothing more than a business deal."
I had to hide my amazement and shock before cracking a small smile. So, Mason could run his mouth but I couldn't? Not like I would ever do it, but I remembered him getting mad when I told him Beth knew about our deal.
"I was actually the one who suggested him to get married as soon as possible," Gale added, cutting off my thought. "I didn't think he was going to marry the woman I had hoped to go out with." I opened and closed my mouth, not knowing what to say to him. "But I can wait." He smiled.
There was nothing wrong with Gale, but I couldn't see myself going out with him. Sure, he had everything a woman could ever want, but he just wasn't the one.
"I don't know when Mason would be back," I said, at last, hoping he would get the hint that I wanted him to leave. Fortunately, he was a smart man, because he rose up to his feet.
"I think I will leave now. I've got a lot of things to catch up on, but it was nice seeing you again, Lauren."
I smiled back at him. "You too."
"I'd be sure to drop by again when I have time."
I nodded and escorted him to the door, watching him leave before I closed it and leaned against the door when I heard a growl in front of me. I opened my eyes and gasped, jumping to the other side as Prince flared up at me.
I swore. "Damn you, Prince!"
I spent hours trying to get in a friendly zone with Prince. The dog was impossible, just like his owner, and I was positively sure he could understand what I was saying.
After Gale dropped him off, he began to follow me around. Every time I tried to move, he would growl at me, almost like he didn't want me touching anything. That reminded me of his owner. Prince was every bit like him, and I could hardly live with one of Mason, but now there were two?
The minute I heard the sound of his car and the front door opening, I was quick to show up in front of him, not hiding my excitement when he walked in with his briefcase.
Mason turned to look back at me, his eyebrows arched at my smiling face. "You look happy," he said, loosening his tie.
"I was bored of staring at my phone," I replied.
"That's why I asked Gale to bring Prince back."
I raised a brow. "You know he hates me, right?"
"I know," he said with a hint of a playful smile. "That's exactly why I wanted him back. To make your life hell when I'm not here to do it."
Shaking my head in disbelief, I said with a light tone, "You're horrible."
He paused, then smirked, watching me through lowered lashes. "Thank you. What else? If there isn't anything, I need to freshen up and go to my study."
My lips parted a little. "You just got back from the office and you want to work again? Does your brain ever rest?"
"I'm the CEO of Campbell Industry. Resting isn't entitled to me."
I couldn't help a brief laugh at that, and with amusement, I remarked, "Is that why you're always so uptight?"
"Enjoy the rest of your evening, Lauren." He shifted, pushing away from the door to head upstairs.